It’s time to plant your tulips, now

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For the best and brightest borders next spring, plant some tulips now says Hannah Stephenson

You have probably planted most of your spring bulbs by now, but it’s not too late to add tulips to the mix, ready to create a riot of colour next season.

With this in mind, Consumers’ Association magazine Which? Gardening has been scouring the country to ask head gardeners exactly how they achieve their show-stopping tulip displays.

In RHS Garden Harlow Carr in Harrogate, North Yorkshire they use a sizzling combination of Tulipa ‘Ballerina’ (orange), ‘Queen of Night’ (dark purple) and ‘Jan Reus’ (dark red).

Garden manager Alison Goding explains: “The Triumph tulip ‘Jan Reus’ starts flowering in April and is 50cm high, while ‘Queen of Night’ and ‘Ballerina’ flower in May and are 60cm high, so the overall display has more depth and lasts a bit longer.”

The tulips are in a raised bed filled with topsoil, mixed with garden compost and grit to improve drainage and bulbs are planted at a depth of three to four times the size of the bulb, 15cm apart.

A cooler theme is adopted at the Dorothy Clive Garden in Market Drayton, Shropshire (www.dorothyclivegarden.co.uk), combining white tulips ‘Purissima’ with masses of soft blue forget-me-nots and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, which appear in late spring.

Margaret Barry, deputy curator of the garden, says: “This ‘cool’ theme is pleasing on the eye due to the limited tones of colour.

“The varying textures also make this display appealing: a fluffy carpet of forget-me-nots punctuated by strong, linear stems supporting symmetrical blooms.”

The gardeners change the bed every year and in spring 2014 will be offering a vibrant display of ‘Purple Flag’, ‘Christmas Orange’ and ‘Christmas Marvel’ (cerise pink), with an underplanting of deep-blue ‘Sylva’ forget-me-nots, which don’t tend to self-seed as much as other varieties.

Head gardener Ann Starling says: “I started with purple varieties then added others. I first staged the tulips in pots like this about eight years ago. I repeat it each year because it works, and purple is a different colour for spring.

“We empty the pots of their summer plantings then fill them with 15-25 bulbs each. The pots are sometimes put into coldframes in cold weather. If you do shelter planted-up pots in this way be careful, as you have to water them.”

Mixed Rembrandt tulips - so called because they have similar markings to the tulips painted by the Dutch Old Masters – are planted in layers with tulip ‘Zurel’ and ‘Flaming Spring Green’ to make a refreshing combination.

James advises: “The tulip takes four to seven years to flower from seed.

“In the meantime, you need to keep the area weed free.

“We use a weedkiller containing glyphosate once the tulip foliage has gone brown to control docks and cow parsley.

“We scatter the seed on the ground every year.”